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article imageReview: Women lead the way in this week’s releases Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Mar 23, 2017 in Entertainment
This week’s releases include some uncompromising representations of women representations; an intriguing cat-and-mouse chase; a video game brought to life; and an animated film that keeps it pretty simple.
The Ardennes (DVD)
Film Movement
Four years after Kenneth (Kevin Janssens) is released from prison for a botched robbery and home invasion, he anxiously comes home to pick up where he, his brother, and his girlfriend — his partners in crime — left off, ready to resume the drug-crime lifestyle again. But both Dave (Jeroen Perceval) and ex-girlfriend Sylvie (Veerle Baetens) have since adopted clean lifestyles and, unbeknownst to Kenneth, have started dating. After a failed attempt at a real job at a car wash, Kenneth corrals his brother to help him cover up one last crime he has compulsively committed, taking them to the namesake forest where they meet up with Kenneth’s eccentric former cellmate (Jan Bijvoet) and a gaggle of other questionable characters.
This is a story in which you pity everyone involved — some more than others — until you learn at least one of those characters didn’t deserve your sympathy. Dave has promised his mother to keep Kenny on the straight-and-narrow now that he’s out, but his older brother doesn’t make it easy on either of them. Instead, his return implodes everything they’ve worked to build. Kenny’s obviously resentful that his sacrifice and incarceration worked out so well for his accomplices, though he conceals it best he can. The twists and turns of this Flemish family crime drama are dark and explosive with the unpredictable conclusion effectively topping off the captivating thriller.
Special features include: commentary and interview by director Robin Pront and actor Kevin Janssens; a making-of featurette; and Pront’s 15-minute short film, Injury Time. (Film Movement)
Assassin’s Creed (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Fox Home Entertainment
Through a technology that unlocks his memories, Callum (Michael Fassbender) discovers he is a descendent of an ancient life of assassins.
Based on the popular video game franchise, this film had a lot of potential. With dual settings inside the high-tech facility and Callum’s past life, audiences are discovering both worlds alongside the protagonist. The visuals are striking with the design of the Animus VR machine, which aids Callum’s regression, being spot-on and lending itself to some cool mid-air action. And the recreation of the ancient Italy seen in the game is quite attractive. Unfortunately, the narrative is so incredibly thin it can barely support the comparatively compelling aesthetics. To this end, the conclusion is so sudden and concise the film basically lacks a climax, leaving the movie to feel incomplete and rushed. Fassbender, Marion Cotillard and the rest of the cast do their best, but they really are not given much with which to work.
Special features include: “Take the Pledge” five-part making-of documentary; “Conversations with Justin Kurzel”; deleted scenes conversation with Kurzel and Christopher Tellefsen; and gallery. (Fox Home Entertainment)
Elle (Blu-ray)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Michèle (Isabelle Huppert) seems indestructible. Head of a leading video game company, she brings the same ruthless attitude to her love life as to business. Being attacked in her home by an unknown assailant changes Michèle’s life forever. When she resolutely tracks the man down, they are both drawn into a curious and thrilling game — a game that may, at any moment, spiral out of control.
In spite of Huppert’s convincing, Golden Globe-winning performance, this film’s subject is incredibly problematic. Michèle is portrayed as a strong, confident woman who is sexually attacked, literally and figuratively. In addition to being violently raped in her home, an employee at her company superimposes her face on that of a woman being violated by a monster in a video game. Yet, she finds the first incident arousing and the second mildly annoying, mostly because it undermines her authority. This is not a story of female empowerment and a woman comfortable with her sexuality; rather, director Paul Verhoeven’s picture reinforces a rape culture feminists have been fighting diligently to quell.
Special features include: “A Tale of Empowerment: Making Elle”; and “Celebrating an Icon: AFI’s Tribute to Isabelle Huppert.” (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
Insecure: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
HBO Home Entertainment
Best friends Issa (Issa Rae) and Molly (Yvonne Orji) navigate the tricky professional and personal terrain of Los Angeles. Modern-day black women are usually portrayed as strong, confident and “flawless.” But Issa and Molly are definitely not “killing it.” These best friends must deal with their own real-life flaws as they attempt navigate different worlds and cope with an endless series of uncomfortable experiences and racy tribulations.
While the themes of these types of dramas are universal — dating, love, heartache, sex, work, alcohol — different people bring different experiences to the table and these stories have primarily between told from a white perspective. HBO’s new series brings the typically funny, confident black friend to the forefront where she’s allowed to have shortcomings and not have it all together. While Molly is still desperately seeking a man who meets her high expectations, Issa is unsure of the future of her long-term relationship. Moreover, their experiences in their respective jobs — law firm and child development organization — as one of the few minority employees is amusing because the awkward situations they portray are genuine. This is a smart, well-written comedy that provides a little variety to the primetime genre.
Special features include: “Conjugal Visits”; “Insecure: In the Room”; and “On the Insecure set with Issa Rae.” (HBO Home Entertainment)
Julieta (Blu-ray)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Julieta (Adriana Ugarte) lives in Madrid with her daughter Antia (Priscilla Delgado). They are both in pain over the loss of Xoan (Daniel Grao), Antia’s father and Julieta’s husband. But sometimes grief doesn’t bring people closer, it drives them apart. When Antia turns eighteen, she abandons her mother without a word of explanation. Julieta (Emma Suárez) is haunted by the mystery of this loss and it pervades everything in her life. Her struggle and obsession lead to self-discovery and surprising revelations.
Director Pedro Almodóvar’s latest film is based on three short stories by Alice Munro, which all featured the same woman through different stages of her life. Julieta goes from being a content, vibrant woman at the movie’s start to someone drowning in a darkness in which she’s wrapped herself. Audiences are provided clues regarding the cause of her malaise, but eventually she decides to document her story from Antia’s conception to the moment her life once again turned upside-down. Conveyed via flashbacks that follow Julieta’s narration of events, her suffering becomes clear… though it’s another’s confession who sheds some light on Antia’s disappearance. The tale is succinct and captivating, although many may find the ending unsatisfying.
Special features include: “Portrait of Julieta”; and “Celebrating Director Pedro Almodóvar.” (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
Live by Night (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
WWI vet Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck) is a self-proclaimed anti-establishment outlaw, despite being the son of the Boston Police Deputy Superintendent (Brendan Gleeson). Joe’s not all bad, though; in fact, he’s not really bad enough for the life he’s chosen. Unlike the gangsters he refuses to work for, he has a sense of justice and an open heart, and both work against him, leaving him vulnerable time and again — in business and in love. Driven by a need to right the wrongs committed against him and those close to him, Joe heads down a risky path that goes against his upbringing and his own moral code. Leaving the cold Boston winter behind, he and his reckless crew turn up the heat in Tampa. And while revenge may taste sweeter than the molasses that infuses every drop of illegal rum he runs, Joe will learn that it comes at a price.
More than a gangster movie, this is Joe’s personal growth story as he gradually finds out who he is and who he wants to be in the process of becoming a successful bootlegger. He’s unquestionably a romantic at heart rather than a killer. This combination of empathy and intelligence makes him an extremely effective boss for whom others are willing to do the dirty work — namely his right-hand man, Dion (Chris Messina). Since there isn’t a lot of bloodshed, there’s a lot of time to appreciate the stunning ‘20s style and get to know Joe. His devotion to the stylish women in his life is the only thing that supersedes his commitment to the job or desire for revenge. There’s a surprising amount of humour in the film and although it’s funny and impeccably delivered, it’s difficult to decide if it fits in the movie.
Special features include: commentary by director Ben Affleck; deleted scenes with optional commentary; “Angels with Dirty Faces: The Women of Live By Night”; “The Men of Live By Night”; “Live By Night’s Prolific Author”; and “In Close Up: Creating a Classic Car Chase.” (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)
Miss Sloane (Blu-ray)
VVS Films
Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain) is a ruthless lobbyist who is notorious for her unparalleled talent and her desire to win at all costs, even when it puts her own career at risk. The film pulls back the curtain on how Capitol Hill games are played and won as Sloane faces off against the most influential powers in D.C.
It’s not often women are cast in such unapologetic roles; particularly when the character is simply a shrewd businessperson who knows how to play the game well. We’ve seen the male version of Elizabeth countless times in a variety of narratives, but this is a rare occasion when audiences are provided a female version of the same character without compromises — she’s not a struggling mom; she doesn’t rely on her sexuality to win; she doesn’t fall in love with a colleague; nor does she allow her emotions to guide her decision-making. She is just one of the best lobbyists in the field and she likes to win. Chastain is very severe in this role. Her character rarely smiles unless she’s just successfully outmanoeuvred her rivals. Her strategies don’t take into account people’s feelings nor does she apologize for it. This may be the most mature role of Chastain’s career thus far.
Special features include: “Lobbying: Winning by Any Means.” (VVS Films)
Passengers (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence) and Jim (Chris Pratt) are two passengers onboard a spaceship transporting them to a new life on another planet. The trip takes a deadly turn when their hibernation pods mysteriously wake them 90 years before they reach their destination. As they try to unravel the mystery behind the malfunction, they discover that the ship itself is in grave danger. With the lives of 5,000 sleeping passengers at stake, only Jim and Aurora can save them all.
The film’s key relationship begins on a note that is very difficult to overcome in order to be engaged in the rest of the narrative. It’s not difficult to predict the characters’ trajectories, though viewers’ disappointment in the contrived nature of it will weigh heavily on the remainder of the picture. While Pratt and Lawrence appear to be exceptional friends, they lack the romantic chemistry required by the story. Michael Sheen’s android bartender is by far the movie’s most charming element and possibly the only one to which audiences will establish an emotional attachment (just wait to see whose impending demise you find most woeful). The fail safes one would expect to be in place are conveniently absent for the sake of the otherwise impossible love story, which only makes the whole thing that much less appealing.
Special features include: deleted scenes; “Space on Screen: The Visual Effects of Passengers”; “Casting the Passengers”; “Creating the Avalon”; “On Set with Chris Pratt”; “Book Your Passage”; and outtakes. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
RoboCop 2 [Collector’s Edition] (Blu-ray)
Scream Factory
When Detroit's descent into chaos is further compounded by a police department strike and a new designer drug called "Nuke," only RoboCop (Peter Weller) can stop the mayhem. But in his way are an evil corporation that profits from Motor City crime, and a bigger and tougher cyborg with a deadly directive: Take out RoboCop. Containing the latest gadgetry and weaponry as well as the mind of the madman who designed "Nuke," this new cyborg isn't just more sophisticated than his predecessor... he's psychotic and out of control. And it's going to take everything RoboCop has — maybe even his life — to save Detroit from complete and utter anarchy.
The first sequel about the robotic crime fighter pits him against a pint-sized gang leader and his adult superior as everyone and their mother is becoming addicted to the neon red Nuke. It’s weird to watch the teenage boss give orders to his adult subordinates, but they don’t appear to mind since he’s actually smarter than most of them. In the meantime, a dirty cop can’t seem to win no matter which side he chooses in the end. Murphy doesn’t like what’s happening to his city under the thrall of this new drug, so he makes it a top priority to eliminate its distributors. Of course, priorities change when it turns out the company that created you has decided to give the relentless power of being an unstoppable machine to a crazy crime lord you already took down once.
Special features include: commentary by author/CG supervisor Paul M. Sammon; commentary by the makers of “RoboDoc: The Creation of RoboCop” documentary; deleted scenes; “Corporate Wars: The Making of RoboCop 2”; “Machine Parts: The FX of RoboCop 2”; “Robo-Fabricator”; “Adapting Frank Miller’s RoboCop 2”; “OCP Declassified”; still galleries; TV spots; and trailers. (Scream Factory)
RoboCop 3 [Collector’s Edition] (Blu-ray)
Scream Factory
When the ruthless corporation that runs Motor City begins kicking families out of their homes to clear space for a profitable new real estate project, RoboCop (Robert John Burke) joins with a renegade band of freedom fighters to save them. But RoboCop must face some deadly foes, including a lethally efficient android and a dangerous gang of thugs. RoboCop's latest arsenal of high-tech weaponry only somewhat evens the battlefield, as this lone superhero takes on the entire army of corporate militia in an all-out war to control Detroit.
It would appear the premise of this film may have served as an inspiration for The Purge: Anarchy, which dealt with a very similar theme. The corporate hold on the police department and their attempts to extort the cops to force them to do their dirty work is actually quite disconcerting from a contemporary perspective. However, it does lead to an exciting showdown near the end of the picture. In spite of remaining at the centre of the narrative, RoboCop is actually on the sidelines for a large portion of the film — though his return to the fray is quite epic and definitely attention-grabbing. But there’s ultimately right and wrong in these movies, and right has to win the day.
Special features include: commentary by director Fred Dekker; commentary by the makers of “RoboDoc: The Creation of RoboCop” documentary; “Delta City Shuffle: The Making of RoboCop 3”; “Robo-Vision: The FX of RoboCop 3”; “The Corporate Ladder”; “Training Otomo”; “War Machine”; still gallery; and theatrical trailer. (Scream Factory)
Sing (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Universal Home Entertainment
Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) is an eternally optimistic koala who puts on the world’s greatest singing competition to save his crumbling theatre. Rosita (Reese Witherspoon) is an overwhelmed and underappreciated mother of 25 piglets desperate to unleash her inner diva; Ash (Scarlett Johansson) is a punk rock porcupine with a beautiful voice behind her prickly exterior; and Johnny (Taron Egerton) is a young gangster gorilla looking to break free of his family’s felonies.
Although the main idea for the narrative appears to stem from American Idol, it’s actually an interesting story about characters feeling stuck. All of them have big dreams that have remained unfulfilled, either pushed aside by life or suppressed by unsupportive loved ones. But given the opportunity, they all shine… and when they’re spotlight is taken away, they shine even brighter. Except for an original song, the music mostly consists of pop/rock anthems heard on the radio from the likes of Pink, Taylor Swift, Queen and Elton John. The narrative is pretty simple and unfolds predictably with a few amusing instances of ingenuity, particularly regarding Rosita’s household and the lighting of the theatre.
Special features include: “The Best of Gunter”; three new mini-movies; “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing” music video by Tori Kelly; and character profiles. (Universal Home Entertainment)
Solace (Blu-ray)
VVS Films
When FBI Special Agent Joe Merriwether (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is unable to solve a series of homicides, he decides to enlist the help of his former colleague, Dr. John Clancy (Anthony Hopkins), a retired physician with psychic powers. The reclusive Clancy, who shuttered his practice and retreated from the world following the death of his daughter and subsequent break-up of his marriage, wants nothing to do with the case. He soon changes his mind after seeing disturbingly violent visions of Joe’s partner, FBI Special Agent Katherine Cowles’s (Abbie Cornish) ultimate demise. When Clancy’s exceptional intuitive powers put him on the trail of a suspect, Charles Ambrose (Colin Farrell), the doctor soon realizes his abilities are no match against the extraordinary powers of this vicious murderer on a mission.
This film puts Hopkins on the other side of the glass so to speak as he hunts a deranged serial killer who always seems to be one step ahead. While the hunt and investigation are pretty conventional, it’s made distinct by Clancy’s clairvoyance. He describes it as an uber instinct, but it’s so much more than that as indistinct images flash through his mind when he attempts to connect with the killer or one of his victims. Ambrose’s reasoning is interesting, almost rational even, though it doesn’t excuse his actions. The film is bleak and somewhat gritty, nearly evoking an atmosphere similar to the one created for Se7en, or more aptly, The Silence of the Lambs.
Special features include: commentary; and behind-the-scenes featurette. (VVS Films)
Wolf Creek: Season One (DVD)
Lionsgate Home Entertainment
After her family is brutally murdered in the Australian outback, American college student Eve Thorogood (Lucy Fry) vows to bring serial killer Mick Taylor (John Jarratt) to justice — or die in the attempt.
Based on the movie franchise, Jarratt reprises his role as the tourist-hating Aussie serial killer for a six-episode season that plays as a predictable extension of the original series. It’s rather unbelievable that Eve’s amateur hunt for Mick in a foreign country gets more results than years of police work. It’s also fairly dull to watch her roam the outback asking questions and meeting helpful people along the way. In spite of the shows brevity, it feels like a stretched out movie script that just rehashes everything we’ve seen in shorter runtimes. Instead of doing something different with the new format, creators just repeat the same old narrative over a longer period with the same predictable ending.
Special features include: “Cinema to Series: The Legacy of Wolf Creek”; “Making a Television Series”; “Meet the Stars”; “Discovering the Outback”; “Visual Effects”; and “Meet the Supporting Cast.” (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)
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